* Yes of course there’s a pesky asterisk – that $19,250 price includes federal and state rebates that I would and perhaps you’d be eligible for. But I didn’t include the “fuel savings” yet, we can discuss that later as well.
First, some questions. Do you drive across the entire country every other week? Have a 300 mile round-trip daily commute? Need to haul cattle to auction? Terrified of electrical outlets? Family of five or more with no other vehicle in the stable? Live in an apartment without parking? Only willing to buy used cars by the pound? Well, let’s just nip it in the bud right here and agree that this is perhaps not the car for you as these are commonly seen reasons people give as arguments against electric vehicles.
However, let’s look at another potential scenario (and this is a specific real-life one using someone I know as a template): Perhaps you live in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area and are an engineer that works across the Bay Bridge in The City. For the last decade and a half you happily used Casual Carpool to get to work in the mornings and rode either the BART subway system or the AC Transit bus home in the evenings.
Then this pesky little bug happened and you’ve been working from home for a few months. Now it’s time to go back to work in the office but you don’t want to be stuck in a random car with two others you don’t know that may cough on you or, worse, even more random people on the subway or bus coughing around or touching you. But you also don’t want to be stuck in miles-long traffic to pay your bridge toll and you would hate having to get gas every few days for your reliable SUV and don’t trust your older cars to not strand you on the bridge one day (every commuter’s nightmare).
An all-electric car gets you in the carpool lane solo AND reduces the bridge toll significantly even if it’s not free anymore saving literally hours and dollars on the round trip commute. Since you work in San Francisco driving something kind of hip is nice, but everybody and their brother already drives a Tesla (conformists), and you’re the one that has on occasion pulled off the corduroy pants as a chic look on casual Friday anyway. Parking still isn’t easy or free but a small car can fit in smaller spaces.
So let me introduce you to the new all-electric MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door as they officially call it. Everything you need, nothing you don’t (well, actually it has tons of stuff you don’t really need, but at those prices, shovel it in!). The highlights – 110 miles of range (wait, don’t comment yet), fill’er up every night in the garage or driveway, people smile and kids point and wave, plenty roomy for at least two and potentially more, enough cargo area for whatever stuff realistically needs to come home with you, seriously faster than you’d think possible, rounds corners without using the brakes, and practically maintenance-free.
Everybody’s familiar with the new MINI, this is now part of the third generation and while it’s nowhere near as small as the original Mini, the basic two door shape looks pretty much how it always has and hasn’t grown much over the last almost two decades now. They’ve since added a bunch of somewhat larger models, including with AWD, four doors, and other stuff but this is the O.G. form and the right one to start with to take it into the electric future. (There was a very limited 500-unit test run of a similar concept about a decade ago but this is now more mainstream and more readily available).
The single biggest surprise for me regarding this car was the price, so let’s just start with that this time. The MINI Cooper SE (the E means Electric) starts at $29,900 and has an $850 destination charge. There are three trim levels (Signature which is base, Signature Plus which adds a few items along with $4,000 to the bill, and Iconic which is the top of the line for another $3,000). If you’ve been following along in your head you’ll have sussed that the top of the line goes for $36,900 plus destination.
However, here’s the money magic, at least in the United States. Assuming your taxable income is at least at a certain level, you’d be eligible for a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government and if you lived in Colorado, a further $4,000 is available from the state (It used to be $5000, drat!). Various states and localities have different incentives so that would make a difference to your own situation one way or another.
So for me, I’d for example be able to get the Signature (base) model for $29,900 + $850, then deduct a total of $11,500 from my taxes next year getting it down to $19,250. Let’s not get started on whose money those credits come from, there are plenty of my own tax dollars incentivizing other things I wouldn’t choose to either were it my choice, so it all evens out cosmically. We’ll still get to the “fuel savings” part later, don’t worry. Note that I am not an accountant, if you are considering taking advantage of one of these tax credits do not absolutely rely on me, trust but verify with someone you pay.
The second biggest surprise was how well equipped the non-top-trim models were, of course my tester was loaded but as opposed to other MINIs, these only come with a set menu of options, besides five colors and an additional one (a second version of Black) for the top trim, it’s all a Prix Fixe pricing scheme.
There MAY be other personalization options available but looking at the sticker I can’t see anything missing, it is comprehensively equipped, currently if you are interested you have to speak with a dealer to figure out exactly what you’d want and they are taking orders for the 2021 model year.
Colors available in any of the trims are limited to Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, White Silver (as pictured here), Chili Red, British Racing Green, and on the top trim Enigmatic Black which really is a bit of an enigma as I can’t see the difference on my monitor and haven’t seen it in real life yet.
Let’s start with my test car and take stuff away as it’s easier that way. If you like what you see in the pictures, but want to save $3,000 by stepping down from the Iconic trim to the Signature Plus trim, the following changes occur: You get a less fancy but still leather covered multifunction steering wheel, no 8.8″ Touchscreen Navigation Screen, no Cooper SE specific floor mats, no Wireless cell phone charging, no Head-up display, no Parking Assistant, and no Front Park Distance Control (just rear). And I believe the wheels change to a more traditional multi-spoke design. I came to like these oddball-looking wheels on this one, but I don’t see that I’d really need any of the other stuff.
If you want to save a further $4,000 by cutting it down to just the Signature trim level, then remove this as well: Panoramic Moonroof, Power folding mirrors, Auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, Universal garage door opener, Rear park distance control (so none but you can almost reach out the window and feel for anything behind you), and the Harman-Kardon Sound System with six speakers. I don’t know but I’m pretty sure I could live without that stuff as well. Oh, the wheels also change to a five spoke design.
What’s still included: LED lighting front and rear, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay (and it’s WIRELESS!), MINI Navigation – so still a Nav system but with a smaller 6.5″ screen, Active Driving Assistant, Remote heating and cooling, Remote charging, Digital Cockpit Display, Keyless Entry, Toggle switch Start and Stop, Electric parking brake, Black roof and mirrors or Yellow mirrors depending on color, AC charging at 7.4kW, DC fast charging (up to 50 kW).
Also there are the Sport seats, Armrest with phone holder, Automatic climate control, power everything except for the seats, which are all manual, and a MAXI load of other stuff including the awesome Union Jack rear lights – I’m not usually one for these kind of “easter eggs” as some makes totally overdo it, but here it fits and there really aren’t too many of them.
What’s exactly the same on every configuration is the stuff that really matters though, the battery and motor. MINI, being owned by BMW, used the same basic system as in the BMW i3 but configured a bit differently. The batteries (liquid cooled) are under the seats and the 135 kWh motor is in the front, driving the front wheels. Power output is 181hp and 207lb-ft of torque. Weight is about 3,100 pounds.
Acceleration is lively to the point that at 100% throttle from a stop the steering wheel is squirming a bit in one’s hands as the tires try to dart around a bit once you’re underway. Kind of like torque steer but not just to one side, just depends on the grip under each tire.
While 0-60mph is right around 6.5 seconds, this doesn’t change with altitude so up here in Colorado the car is very fast off the line compared to most others. What’re more is the torque is available at every point on the dial, so at any time if you floor it, it just goes hard. I’ve driven regular MINIs and this was even more fun.
There is virtually no noise from the motor (when outside the car there is a bit of a warbling sound that makes kids look), and the transmission is a single speed, so no shifting whatsoever.
The shifter is a monostatic device that returns to center. After figuring out exactly how it works, I came to not dislike it, but it could easily be a more traditional one and not be worse. From a stop you need to hold the top and press a side button bar and then push forward or back for reverse or drive and actually push through a soft detent to get there but doing so gives positive feedback that the desired selection has been made. When stopping and turning off the motor it puts it in Park automatically if you haven’t done so already. With constant use it becomes second nature, but if hopping back and forth between multiple cars, more attention is generally required.
There are two re-generation modes while driving, the default feels like fairly hard engine braking and toggling to select the softer mode makes it more akin to just gently coasting down from speed (but resets to the harder mode with every restart). The harder mode basically will stop the car from any speed when coming to a light or stop sign or whatever and once you practice a bit you requires almost no actual braking as you mentally figure out the correct distance/timing required. The rate of deceleration seems constant, not at all variable, which helps to make it predictable. It’s weird at first, but cool and fun and works the same way when turning into a side street.
The best way to describe the deceleration sensation in that case is to imagine you are traveling at 40-45mph on a boulevard in a manual transmission car in third gear. As you approach the side street you wish to turn into on the right, imagine you downshift to second gear and let the clutch out while still at that speed and let off the gas. Without using the brakes, the car will slow down significantly due to engine braking and you hook the right turn into the side street and then step on the gas again. That’s sort of what that feels like.
Acceleration at speed at any point is again much like being in a manual transmission car and driving along at around the torque peak in any gear, so maybe 3500 rpm or so (but silent), and then flooring it. Very much like that but adjusted for 3100 pounds and 207lb-ft of constant torque. Motor noise as I said is basically zero, the flipside is that everything else becomes more noticeable, even your passenger’s sniffling.
Around town it’s quiet inside. Once above 45mph or so, tire and road noise become more evident but at even more elevated speeds such as freeways they are at such a level that even if this had a gasoline engine, they’d drown that out as well. You’re not shouting to be heard but mumbling doesn’t work. Like most smaller cars there’s not a huge amount of sound deadening, another reason why most wouldn’t take it on an overly long journey.
Cornering is amazing and as they say, go-kart like. The steering is firm and instantly responsive and you can feel at least some of what’s going on below at all times. Tires were Goodyear Eagle F1 in 205/45-17 sizing with plenty of grip but still easy to at least one-wheel peel on a hard turn at full power.
There is no slop in the steering but it isn’t nervous at speed either, it tracks well for such a short car and while bumps are bumps, they feel well-damped and not harsh as long as you realize this isn’t meant to be a Lincoln Mark V. Basically no different than any other MINI, with the battery pack being so low in the chassis the weight helps the handling and ride more than it hinders anything else.
The MINI is fairly low but you sit a bit on the upright side. Getting in is simple, the doors are long and open wide. The seats are excellent, hugely supportive with large but comfortable bolsters and a very good pullout thigh support cushion. The Chesterfield quilted leather looks perfect in this trim level, especially in the light Satellite Grey color surrounded by pretty much blackness all around it (other trims lose at least the quilting and perhaps the material is different but the seat shape seems the same).
The dashboard has a glossy black textured trim piece across it with a jaunty yellow accent on the passenger side, the same shade of yellow as the mirrors and all the various electric “accent” pieces outside. Years ago the speedometer used to be housed in the center console on MINIs (as with the originals), they’ve done away with that. The instrument panel is a small and very motorcycle/racing inspired flat digital screen on top of the steering column that shows all the pertinent info along with a trip computer to show various other informational items.
The center screen is now used for everything else and is controlled by an “i-Drive” type of device on the center console. Navigation, music, settings, etc are all handled through this and it works well as a combination cursor, touch, and voice controlled system. My car didn’t include SXM, I was told this was a European spec one in that regard for testing (could be), but none of the literature I’ve seen mentioned it either, it’d be a curious omission though.
HVAC is of the automatic variety and the Air Conditioning worked very well. I did not get an opportunity to use the heating, however it is of the heat pump variety, so should use much less energy than the resistive type. The heated seats I did use one morning and found that they also function well and evenly and interestingly seem to retain their setting when the car is turned off for a short while but turn back off if the car is unoccupied for a longer period of time. I was not able to figure out if there is a particular time duration that controls this aspect or if it was perhaps ambient temperature based but they way it turned out was perfect in that particular set of circumstances.
Apple CarPlay was included though and for the first time I experienced it without a cable which was great and the way that most cars will head over the next few years, I presume. No current word on Android Auto though as far as I can see. The MINI also included wireless charging for phones, however I didn’t realize it. I did realize that the center armrest opens and has a springloaded clamping device for phones and obviously that is where the wireless charging mat is. My phone (iPhone 8plus) proved too large to fit so I never used it.
There wasn’t any great other place to put the phone either, the two cupholders in front didn’t seem to hold it well and the small cubby in front was not large enough either. When solo, I ended up jamming it in the crevice of the passenger seat between the seat and the thigh extension which held it perfectly. But it’s a small car, so can’t have everything in that regard. Better to put the phone away anyway.
The backseat was also well formed, if snug. I did wedge myself back there and fit behind the passenger seat if it was moved up about halfway but not “behind myself” although I had to angle my head a bit to keep it out of the headliner and much of me was touching various parts of the car, foot room though was not an issue. I’m 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam so if you are much smaller or perhaps a jockey or just eight years old you may fit very well in back. And yes, I do have an official summer testing outfit I wear every time I do one of these things.
All the interior materials are about as you’d probably expect with some soft bits where you often touch and then harder pieces where you either wouldn’t regularly or where you’d likely be banging into it anyway, like the lower door panels and center console. While not all soft, it didn’t look cheap, as expected with MINI there are enough interesting and whimsical things to keep the interest level high, especially the various toggle switches both on the center console as well as on the ceiling (mainly to control the panoramic roof).
The trunk lid is light and opens high, there is an electric switch to open it from inside the cabin or you can do it manually at the hatch. No power assist (fine), it’s light.
There’s even a good sized space below the trunk floor for even more items such as the charger cord and first aid kit and the pouch containing the emergency flat tire repair kit. While not generally a fan of such things, in a small car every bit of space matters. Motorcyclists don’t carry spare tires for similar reasons…
The back seats fold down easily and there is more resulting room than you’d believe if I just wrote about it. The folded seats do leave a lip to lift items over but if the item is longer it can be rested on the sill and then cantilevered over the lip.
In fact this car inspired me to finally get an electric lawnmower and I took a chance on it fitting in the trunk without having to move the driver’s seat.
It fit! And the hatch closed. My truck got to stay at home this time. I’ll bet it would hold at least twenty bags of mulch too. I had to move the passenger seat forward a bit to make it work but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Moving to the other end, the raised hood is gigantic, it doesn’t seem possible that it’s so large, when open it reminded me of the open rear engine covers during servicing of Group B rally cars such as the Peugeot 205T-16 and the Lancia Delta S4. The cutouts for the lights were fun too.
The motor compartment is filled with a large cover that hides everything from view. This may in fact be the largest cover ever made. Or it’s really not that big of a compartment.
But it pops off easily enough so here we can see everything that’s underneath.
It looks all ate up with motor, doesn’t it? I used to think that if I ever got an electric car I’d need a big and powerful one, otherwise I’d get bored. I’ve driven an upper level Tesla Model S for a short drive and while it was amazingly quick and cornered sensationally, the sensations of all of the differences were overwhelming in that short time, too overwhelming to really form solid impressions.
Now experiencing this very differently formatted electric car over a week’s time has made me realize that having the big battery for power is not all that important, this car was as quick as I’d ever really need or realistically consistently use and I found myself scooting around faster than normal all week; every time I looked at the speedometer I’d slow down by at least 10mph to keep it borderline legal, it just gets up to speed so fast and silently. For many if not most normal folks this is already way more than they’d need or even desire in terms of power. So I think the battery and motor are very well matched to the car, the range though being the one thing that people seem to have difficulty getting past.
Which is again something that if one is honest with themselves, either it will or just will not work with their particular use case (and that’s fine either way), but their use case may not be the same as anyone else’s so making blanket statements about it is tiresome.
My own use case would preclude me from having this as my only car as it would be inconvenient on a more than weekly basis, but I do have several other vehicles I could use in a pinch. Still, for me not using it the better part of at least two days out of seven when I have more or less prescribed things I do would be difficult to justify. Better though would be more range, maybe twice as much, however then the price would go up as well which changes other things and hence if it works as is, great.
The battery itself is a 32kWh Lithium-Ion battery and the car can charge in three different modes so let’s dive into that.
You could choose to just plug it in via a regular household socket (110V) using the supplied cord which is billed as more of an emergency option, i.e. you keep the cord in the car and in an emergency could plug in at any visible outlet that’s within range of the cord. This works, albeit slowly, it adds about 1.2kW of charge every hour. This is what I used every time I came home from driving around and at nights for several of my days with the car when I drove less than about 30 miles a day. It equates to adding about 2-3 miles of range every hour it’s plugged in. It was full every morning as long as it wasn’t too empty the night before, obviously.
If I owned it (or any other electric), I’d install a 220V Level 2 charger that will supply power to the MINI at 7.4kW and fill the battery from empty in about four hours. For any around town or daily driving for (my guess) 95% of anyone living and working within twenty miles of a metropolitan area this seems like it would completely suffice the vast majority of the time. This is analogous to installing a clothes dryer circuit/outlet in one’s garage or next to it, i.e., hardly cost-prohibitive or difficult.
The third charging option is to charge using a Level 3 DC fast charger, the likes of which are publicly available for use from many different suppliers and can charge at up to 50kW. This means that in 36 minutes the car could be charged from completely empty (which is unlikely unless you tow it to the charger) to 80% after which the charge slows down and trickles in until full (or you leave sooner with it at 80%). I used this type of charger twice, and in both cases left without filling all the way, once to about 85%, the other to about 95% which worked out just fine in both cases. But no, this is NOT the car to cross the country with (although you could, given enough time).
The car I had was supplied with two account cards from EVgo and ChargePoint which are just two different networks of many. Using their apps and a different one I found myself called ChargeHub I found that while Mini advertises over 19,000 public charging stations, the vast majority are level 2, which would take a long time (too long) to fill when on the road. Pricing for charging varies by company and I believe if you have a membership card like the ones I had then that offers better pricing as well. It’s unlikely to be as inexpensive as charging at home though.
So when traveling anywhere a level 3 DC charger was the way to go but some trip planning is useful (the Mini Nav system will also direct you to a charger if needed as would your smartphone BTW), however the reality is that if I owned one I would quickly know where the chargers were in the areas that I’d travel to regularly.
When I got the car it was not fully charged due to a timing issue to do with me rather than the supplier. However I figured I’d take the opportunity to learn how to DC fast charge this thing. I happen to have both a BMW and a MINI dealer within ten miles of my house, but was frankly shocked to learn that neither had a DC Level 3 charger on the premises.
This is frankly surprising, I would expect that seeing an electric car fill up in about half an hour as part of a test drive would be a useful sales tool, perhaps it’s coming in the future, I certainly would hope so. But next door is a Harley-Davidson dealer and H-D has been getting into electric motorcycles. Apparently every one of their dealers has a ChargePoint Level 3 DC charger installed that is compatible with the MINI.
However, once I got there and plugged it in and nothing happened I called ChargePoint (their customer service number is on the unit as well as the card) and the friendly lady that picked up immediately walked me through the procedure as we were both not confident that I was doing things correctly (turned out I was), and after a few more minutes of back and forth she realized that H-D apparently has the capability to limit who and what charges on the chargers. Apparently this dealer didn’t want the BMW and MINI dealer folks using their charger (and I can’t say I disagree, that’d be annoying for them).
So using the app I found another DC charger across town and while it was on the other (EVgo) network, it worked great and I texted Paul about the car while charging. The EPA officially rates the MINI as providing a 108MPGe average which is a supposed formula to show the equivalence to gasoline (e for equivalent) so that one can compare electrics to conventionally powered vehicles. The figures are 115MPGe City, 100MPGe Highway, with 108MPGe Average.
In the end I drove the MINI 303 miles in total and the trip computer figured I averaged 4.3 miles per kWh. I saw figures significantly higher than that while on the freeway and driving steadily but at least 2/3rds of my mileage was in town with lots of stops and starts and in the curvy roads above town, no more than 100 on the freeway.
I did take one trip to the northern outskirts of Denver specifically to use another DC fast charger that was on the grounds of a gas station and 46 miles away from my house. I left with a full charge (the display read 108 miles of range) and arrived with a remaining range of 64 miles. Doing the math shows that it was not pessimistic, in fact I gained a couple of miles of range.
That journey was mainly on the freeway and the entire way I was generally within about 10mph either side of the applicable speed limit, the majority of which was 75mph, I did not take it easy to try to conserve energy. I was also able to confirm that the MINI is limited to a top speed of 96mph. Over the week I came to realize that the range-o-meter does take driving style into account, so a full charge could show a different range amount than the official rating (110 miles) and change day to day based on that data if you filled up every night.
Anyway, once arrived at the gas station I was aiming for, the fast charger (ChargePoint this time) was located at the entrance; I parked, swiped the card, plugged in, and it began juicing up.
To me, this is the future of travel charging, the chargers need to be at gas stations, they already have the most convenient locations, there is parking, power infrastructure exists on the property, there is something to do such as get a beverage or an unhealthy but profitable for the owner snack, and generally other people around.
The fast chargers directly in my area are located on the grounds of the Discovery Museum (deserted when I was there), and at JAX (a large farm and ranch supply store chain, think REI for the horse and cattle crowd). The Nissan dealer has one as well that showed up on the app but it may not be available to other marques either. It’s fine to have them there but the oil companies should try to rebrand themselves as “energy” companies, get on board and might as well make some money off this as well. All three of the public chargers I was at were clean, easy to find, and easy to use. I would not hesitate to recommend this to my own mother based on my experiences (and she’s British to boot so a MINI would be right up her alley).
MINI estimates that an owner will be able to save $4,500 in gas as well over five years of ownership. They claim that the average new vehicle gets 27 MPG and it costs $7,500 to fuel over 5 years. Cost estimates are based on 15,000 miles per year and at $0.13 per kWh to charge. So doing the math backwards shows they are using an average gasoline price of $2.70/gallon which currently is a bit high for much of the country but not unreasonable as an average for the last few years.
If I were to charge while at home I pay under $0.07/kWh to charge so my cost would be less if I kept the charging to the overnight or morning hours. If I paid for solar panels that’d bring it down even more but of course installing solar isn’t free either and would need to be amortized back in so I won’t go there for this post. In any case, it looks like for me I’d likely be ahead on the fuel cost part as well.
At its root, this car is probably best for a metro-area dweller or someone with a limited or predictable daily route or routine. Someone outside of London wanting to get into the city and beat the congestion charge would be one obvious case. Other cities, even over here, may follow suit with that type of scheme where it costs money to get into the dense urban core unless one is driving an electric vehicle. Carpool lanes that offer single driver access to electrics offer much the same incentive.
The example I started this post with could be extrapolated to any number of other people’s situations around this country as well. Many of our contributors likely fall into the category for whom this would work and presumably quite a few readers as well. The MINI goes great, doesn’t look dorky at all, isn’t absurdly expensive, and has proven mechanicals. This car’s a hoot.
Thanks go to MINI for providing us with the car and two different charging network cards for the week.